Diseases & Conditions Anatomy Ear, Nose and Throat Pain Management
Home » Oral Health » Herpes on Tongue

Herpes on Tongue

Herpes is a viral disease that affects any part of the body, with the genitals and the lips being the most hit. Herpes does not stop with the lips and the genitals; it also affects the tongue as well thereby making the act of eating a terrible experience for the sufferer.

Herpes otherwise known as cold sores can stay in the nerve cells for years after the initial infection but keeps being reactivated from time to time. No matter the part of the body that is affected, the sores can be quite painful or distressing.

What is Tongue Herpes?

Herpes on tongue is one of those things you have when you suffer from a condition referred to oral herpes, which involves the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks and the palate (roof of the mouth). Specifically, tongue herpes is the herpes that is localized to the tongue. It is mostly caused by the Herpes Simplex One virus. Having this type of viral infection can make chewing, swallowing and enjoying the taste of food a hell for you.

How does Oral Herpes look like?

Oral herpes is quite easy to understand because it comes with sores around the mouth – lips, tongue, cheeks, gum or palate.

Picture of herpes on tongue

While the virus affects humans only and the mouth sores are commoner in children between 1 and 2 years old, anybody can be affected irrespective of age. The oral inflammation associated with HSV-1 is also known as herpes gingivostomatitis.

A few days before the appearance of the blisters, you may have itching, pain or burning sensation around the infected area. Sometimes, you could have sore throat, fever, tiredness, bleeding gums, swelling of the lymph nodes and salivary glands, etc.

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes on Tongue

The signs and symptoms of tongue herpes include:

  • Painful sores or bumps on the lips, tongue, gums, cheeks and the roof of the mouth (hard palate)
  • Sores may be present on the chin, nose, neck, and face
  • Sores contain painful lesions filled with fluid
  • Periodic reactivation of dormant lesions
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • There could also be muscle aches.

What Causes Oral Herpes?

Oral herpes is mostly caused by an infection by a virus known as “Herpes Simplex Virus One”. While there are two similar viruses (Herpes Simplex Virus One and Herpes Simplex Virus Two), they present with distinctive DNA but both are capable of causing oral and genital lesions. Nevertheless, about 80% of all oral lesions and just 20% of genital lesions are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus One (HSV-1).

Exposure to Oral herpes (HSV-1) infection also occurs sometimes without showing any signs of actual infection. There are no sores, lesions or pains. Antibodies to HSV-1 have been found in about 65% of the population of the U.S.A by the age of 40. Genital herpes is seen as sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Herpes Simplex Virus Two (HSV-2) is responsible for genital herpes and has been linked with the incidence of cervical cancer because its presence in women with cervical cancer is nearly twice as often as in those who have not.

Different Stages

Once you are infected with the herpes virus, the disease passes through 3 distinct stages which have their own features:

Primary infection: The virus gains entry through your mucous membrane or skin and starts to reproduce. At this stage, you may develop oral sores and other symptoms like fever.
It is also possible not to experience any sores or other symptoms after being infected by the virus. So, you may not even be aware that you are infected. This is referred to as asymptomatic infection. The incidence of asymptomatic infection is twice as high as the symptomatic disease.

Latency: The virus migrates from the site of infection to a mass of nervous tissue in your spine known as the dorsal root ganglion. Upon arriving there, it reproduces again and then becomes inactive.

Recurrence: The virus is reactivated when you pass through some forms of stress such as physical or emotional stress. At this point, the virus is able to cause outbreak of new sores and symptoms.

If you are susceptible to reactivation, here are stages to expect the blisters to go through:

Prodrome (1 -2 days)

In this case, some persons have tingling, tightening, or itchy sensation a day or so, on the site of infection before there is an outbreak. It is mostly seen in those with initial outbreak.

Swelling (1-2 days)

At this stage, there is formation of blisters. Your immune system or treatment may succeed in controlling it before the blisters break out in some cases.

Appearance of Blisters (1-2 days)

There is formation of red, white, grey or clear blisters at this stage. They can be tiny but come in large clusters. The blisters can be confined to a place or affect various areas on the tongue or elsewhere.

Ulceration (1 day)

The sores rupture and release fluid that is filled with the HSV-1. The sores eventually transit from red, wet and raw sores to ulcers that are grayish. The sore are extremely contagious and excruciatingly painful.

Scabbing (3-5 days)

After the blisters are broken, a crust grows over the wet blister and may become hardened into a painful scab if it is not prevented by the moisture in the mouth. There may also the emergence of a yellowish crust.

Healing (3-5 days)

The formed scabs gradually heal and fall off on their own. New skin form under the scab, making them to naturally fall off if the healing process runs on its own accord.

The outbreak of herpes last for about 2 weeks including all the stages. If you irritate the sore or scratch them, the healing process may become prolonged by another week.

How to Treat Tongue Herpes?

Diet is an essential part of the treatment of herpes. Foods that are rich in lysine and poor in arginine are particularly helpful. While lysine suppresses the replication of the virus, arginine is capable of assisting it to replicate. Lysine is an essential amino acid needed by the human body for calcium absorption and antibodies production.

Foods with a high level of lysine include fish, meat and dairy products. If you are to apply diet, make sure the percentage of lysine in the diet is higher than that of arginine.


There are several over-the-counter pain relief drugs that you can apply to take care of the pain associated with tongue herpes. They include:

  • Analgesic gels containing benzocaine to create temporary numbness of the lesion and provide pain relief.
  • Give more vitamin C, B, and zinc, to help speed up the process of healing. This is really necessary if a deficiency of any of them had contributed to the problem.
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen also serves as a potent pain relief drug.
  • Carbamide peroxide solution releases oxygen as it comes in contact with the ulcer thereby cleaning the sore and providing pain relief, including antibacterial effects.

Doctor Prescribed Treatment

When the sores refuse to respond positively to over-the-counter drugs, the doctor may need to prescribe the following medications:

  • Silver nitrate: It offers quick pain relief and aids healing. It should be applied by experienced medical personnel. It has a burnt taste when used but the pain goes away in a matter of hours and the sores are healed within a few days.
  • Debacterol: This mixture of sulfonated phenolic compounds and sulfuric acid will help to burn the ulcer chemically. Its mode of action is like that of silver nitrate and can only be gotten through prescription.
  • A mouth wash which contains tetracycline or an active ingredient known as steroid dexamethasone also plays a role in minimizing inflammation, swelling and pain.
  • Different antibiotics and corticosteroids can be prescribed to relieve pain and speed up healing time for severe sores on the tongue.

Difference between Tongue Herpes and Canker Sore

The main feature that distinguishes tongue herpes from canker sores is that herpetic lesions of the tongue herpes are filled with fluid and are painful while canker sores are not. Canker sores are also self limiting to the inside of the mouth (do not affect skin surfaces), they are not contagious but usually caused by substances that irritate the lining of the mouth.

Is Herpes on Tongue Contagious?

Herpes on tongue is highly contagious, meaning that it can be contracted through touching the skin, saliva or mucous membrane of an infected person. Due to its high level of contagiousness, a vast number of the populace is infected by a subtype of the HSV-1 virus before they become adults. So, anyone who is currently suffering from the disease poses a great threat to others who come in close contact with them daily.

One of the easiest ways of contracting the virus is through kissing an infected person. Since the saliva is often laden with the virus, kissing makes it easy to transmit the virus. Having open wounds in your mouth or around the lips increases the chances of getting herpes on tongue.

Transmission through sexual activity is quite common as well, especially during an active stage. Vaginal fluids are contagious hence it is regarded as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Oral sex (mouth-to-genital) is also a good way of transmitting the virus because of the direct contact with the fluid discharged from the genitals.

When should I see a doctor?

If the herpes on tongue won’t go away or the pain becomes unbearable even after trying your normal home remedies, then it is time to see your doctor for more investigation and further treatment. You should also see the doctor if there are signs of dehydration.


Herpes on tongue can be quite discomforting and make eating a difficult task. The itchy and painful sores can also be a great challenge. However, when the signs of its onset are recognized on time and treatment commenced immediately, the seriousness can be reduced.

If you take over-the-counter drugs and they fail to address your problem, see the doctor for further evaluation and management.

Pictures of Herpes on tongue

Collection of photos, pictures and images of herpes on tongue:

4.8/5 - (34 votes)

Leave a Reply

© 2011-2017 HelloMrDoctor.com. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy
The health information provided on this web site is for educational purposes only and is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.